San Bernardino County is soliciting public input on an ambitious 10-year plan intended to end chronic homelessness in the county.

The draft plan, which recently completed after more than a year of meetings between the county Office of Homeless Services and numerous nonprofit and social service organizations, calls for a greater focus on prevention and case management, as well as more coordination in providing services to the county's homeless and at-risk populations.

The county expects the efforts to be aided by about $6.8 million in federal stimulus funds for homelessness prevention services.

The 10-year plan is part of a nationwide effort that began in 2001 when then-President George W. Bush asked the 100 largest cities in the United States to develop a solution to chronic homelessness. Many  counties have already created similar plans.

Angela Pasco, executive director of the New Hope Village transitional housing facility in Barstow, participated in the plan development process.

"I think it's well overdue, and I think it's a good plan as long as we can all work together," she said.

County Homeless Services Coordinator Isaac Jackson said the plan includes a focus on public outreach, so people can find out about programs like rent, mortgage and utility assistance before they end up on the streets.

"We know and data shows that if you can stop a person from becoming homeless... it's much easier to service them," he said.

The plan would create a central call center where people in crisis can call and be connected with a case manager to help stabilize their situation, as well as several "one stop" centers around the county where people can come for a range of services from employment to housing placement to health and mental health care.

Another component would be development of a single application form that would connect people to a variety of state and county services, Jackson said.

Jackson said San Bernardino County has unique problems in providing homeless services because it the county is so large and contains a mix of rural and urban areas. A 2007 homeless count found 7,331 people living on the streets or in shelters in San Bernardino County on a given day, with 184 of them being in Barstow.

Sheri Randolph, executive director of the Desert Manna homeless shelter in Barstow said about 75 percent of the clients the shelter serves are only temporarily homeless after being evicted, fleeing domestic violence, or otherwise losing their housing situation. A minority of the clients fall into the "chronically homeless" category.

Pasco and Randolph both said there is a need for more affordable housing in the city.

Desert Manna is beginning preparations to move from its current location on First Avenue and build a new shelter on land donated by the city of Barstow on Crooks Street. Randolph said the shelter's board has discussed the idea of opening a one stop shop of the type described in the 10-year plan, in addition to a shelter that provides emergency services, but for the time being they are focused on bringing the new shelter to fruition.

The final 10-year plan should be completed in mid-May and will then go to the Board of County Supervisors for approval, Jackson said.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or asewell@desertdispatch.com